For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A Postscript to "Scripture and Tradition"

I thought I should clarify what I meant by a couple of terms in the previous post Scripture and Tradition Anno Domini as I don't want to engage in, or seem to be engaged in, polemic. Polemic is not my aim.

(1) By sola scriptura I mean the doctrine that Scripture is not just the supreme rule, but the only rule, of faith and practice. For its adherents, tradition has nothing essential to offer to the understanding of what Scripture teaches; the aim is rather not to enter a long and established scheme of interpretation, but to get to the point of what the text is really saying without bringing anything in from the outside. And this approach, claims Kugel, when taken up by the new discipline of biblical criticism in the nineteenth century, Wellhausen etc., began to uncover the "cut and paste" of the redactors and editors of the bible. There are of course, plenty of Christians who hold to sola scriptura and don't hold with all the results of critical academia. Kugel says this is inconsistent, because the assumptions such people hold about the text (its inerrant nature, its perfect consistency in teaching, its divine authority and so on) are not simply there in the text. These assumptions are in fact what make the Scripture the divine Word. Take the assumptions away, proceed to textual analysis by sola scriptura, and one will soon enough find human inconsistency, factual error, and divergence of teaching about the very nature of God Himself.

(2) By the hegemony of the "Protestant" approach to Scripture in academia, I am referring to the tradition of biblical criticism that prevails and is practised in universities and theological colleges in the English speaking world; and, I would imagine, in formerly Protestant European countries. There are numerous Protestant theological colleges who wouldn't touch it because they remain persuaded that the bible is God's written word in every detail; there are some Catholic seminaries enthusiastic about it. But it has its origins and its predominance among Protestant academics, and that is why I use the term, and not because I wish to make a point about it being some kind of Protestant aberration.

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